Feliz cinco de mayo! We celebrated Mexico’s day (not Mexico’s independence day, as I previously thought, but the commemoration of the Mexican army’s “unlikely victory” over the French at the Battle of Puebla, according to the all-knowing and ever-infallible Wikipedia) by making mole poblano (meaning from Puebla). Or, as I called it to sell it to my four-year-old, chocolate stew.
I love mole but haven’t made it often because the many recipes out there always seemed so complex and involved lots of ingredients not readily available to me. I don’t have the time or resources to search out three different kinds of chiles, nor the inclination to cook with a cup of lard. I can’t readily find tomatillos or avocado leaves (?!? one recipe I saw called for these) in England and high-FODMAP ingredients like garlic, onions and raisins would bother my belly.
Without all the above-named ingredients, was I going to be able to come up with an authentic-tasting, relatively easy-to-make mole? If you’re sceptical, I don’t blame you. I wasn’t entirely sure myself that I’d be able to pull it off. But I DID. Oh, how I did. This mole had all the rich, complex, smoky taste I craved, and yet I could serve it to my kids without them complaining it was too spicy (I added more cayenne pepper at the table for myself). I’d be the first to admit that even without the cup of lard I saw listed in another recipe, my version isn’t exactly low-calorie. I used plenty of chocolate, peanut butter and other nuts. But this recipe is high in protein and antioxidants, and you don’t need a big portion to feel satisfied. At least, that’s how I justified it to myself!
Chicken mole (gluten-free, low-FODMAP, optionally grain-free)
- 4-6 large chicken thighs, bone-in, skin on (I used 4 and it was plenty meaty enough for my taste but given the amount of sauce I ended up with, I could have easily used 6)*
- 2 bay leaves (not necessary if using pre-made chicken broth)
- 1 teaspoon dried rosemary (not necessary if using pre-made chicken broth)
- 1 teaspoon dried tarragon (not necessary if using pre-made chicken broth)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (not necessary if using pre-made chicken broth)
- 2 litres water or chicken broth
- 2 red peppers
- 2 large tomatoes (I actually only had one so I used one large tomato and a handful of cherry tomatoes)
- 6-8 sundried tomatoes, soaked in enough just-boiled water to cover (Maybe they were sundried tomato halves? Regardless, a good handful. The dry kind, not the kind preserved in oil.)
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (regular sweet paprika just won’t do here)
- 1-2 whole star anise
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
- 90 grams dark chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used 76% chocolate and I wouldn’t go any lower. I confess I used 90 grams because I imposed a deliciousness tax on a 100-gram bar. If you have more willpower than me, you might be able to reduce the amount of cocoa powder you use.)
- 1/4 cup peanut butter (I would strongly recommend 100% natural peanut butter with no added sugar, salt, palm oil, etc.)
- 1/4 cup ground almonds
- 1/4 cup ground sesame seeds**
- 1/4 cup rice breadcrumbs***
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
- Ground black pepper to taste
- Cayenne pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon toasted whole sesame seeds for garnish, optional
- Fresh cilantro for garnish, optional
- Brown chicken thighs well in a large pot. Once chicken is cooked, remove from pot and set aside. Drain off excess fat but don’t wash the pot – you want the browned bits in the bottom of the pot. Discard the chicken skin or save for another use. (I had a couple of bites since I love crispy chicken skin in small quantities, but green binned the rest. I find chicken skin unpleasant in stews.) Remove the bones and cartilage and chop the meat into large bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
- If you already have some good low-FODMAP chicken broth, you can skip this step, but if not, make a quick chicken broth. In about 2 litres of water, boil the chicken bones and cartilage with bay leaves, tarragon, oregano, and rosemary. Once the water comes to the boil, simmer it while you perform the following steps. (Note: Of course, a longer-simmered chicken broth will have better flavour, but because this is a strongly flavoured dish, it’s less crucial that you have fantastic chicken broth than if you were making, say, matzo ball soup.)
- Blacken red peppers by roasting directly on a gas burner, turning regularly until all or almost all the skin is black. If you don’t have a gas burner, you can use a barbecue or broil in an oven. Peel off blackened skin and remove seeds and inner membranes. Also broil the tomatoes until skin is charred and splitting. Remove the skin but not the seeds.
- Coarsely chop the sundried tomatoes (save the soaking liquid), roasted red peppers and broiled tomatoes. Put in a blender with the soaking liquid from the sundried tomatoes, plus a little more water if necessary. Puree until no large bits remain.
- Strain all solids out of the chicken broth if freshly made or pour about 2 litres of pre-made chicken broth into the large pot still containing the browned bits from the chicken. Add the pepper/tomato puree and mix well, scraping up the browned bits.
- Add the cinnamon, smoked paprika, star anise, cloves, cumin, ginger, ground almonds, ground sesame seeds, peanut butter, dark chocolate, cocoa, pepper, salt, and cayenne pepper (I only used a pinch of cayenne pepper because I was feeding two small children but I would have used more if I were just cooking for adults). Bring to the boil, then simmer, stirring regularly, for at least 30 minutes, longer if you have time.
- Remove the whole star anise. Add the rice breadcrumbs (if using) and mix well until sauce is smooth. The texture at this point should be rich and thick without being clumpy, along the lines of something like a butter chicken curry. If it’s too thick, add hot water. If it’s too thin, add some peanut butter and/or simmer for longer.
- Add the cooked chicken pieces and simmer for a few more minutes.
- Serve with toasted sesame seeds and/or coriander leaves as garnish (optional). If I had fresh, soft, gluten-free corn tortillas I would have served them with the mole but they’re hard to come by in England and I decided it would be too time-consuming to make my own, at least this time, so I served with an easy saffron rice (with red pepper, frozen corn and peas) and sweet corn salsa (with red pepper, fresh cilantro, lime, garlic-infused olive oil, salt and pepper).****
* If you’re using a pre-made chicken broth (low-FODMAP if necessary – keep in mind that almost all commercial chicken broth will contain onion and/or garlic), it’s less crucial that you use boned chicken but I would recommend using skin-on chicken because it browns better while keeping the meat tender, which makes for better flavour. You will later discard the skin.
** Sesame seeds are best ground for better digestion. My mother ground some for me in a special ridged mortar and pestle but Asian food stores often sell pre-ground sesame seeds, especially in the Japanese and Korean sections. You could also use a spice grinder, clean coffee mill, or a good blender.
*** If you’re grain-free, you could probably use more ground almonds and/or peanut butter and eliminate the rice breadcrumbs, which are basically used here for thickening.
**** If you’re low-FODMAP, keep your total serving of sweet corn to 1/2 cup. Even this may be too much for some. Luckily for me, I am not particularly sensitive to moderate quantities of sweet corn. If you do serve your mole with sweet corn, keep in mind it will become a moderate-FODMAP meal, which should be balanced with low-FODMAP food choices the rest of the day.